Another Brexit row: Commemorative coin sparks Oxford comma debate

28 January 2020, 04:58 | Updated: 28 January 2020, 06:01

Brexit has divided families at the dinner table, caused chaos in parliament, and has now sparked a row over the Oxford comma.

Chancellor Sajid Javid unveiled a commemorative 50p coin to mark Britain's impending departure from the EU over the weekend, which features the motto: "Peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations."

While Mr Javid's job title means he needs to be more of a numbers man than a wordsmith, that hasn't stopped some from sticking the knife in over the lack of what they believe to be a crucial Oxford comma.

His Dark Materials author Sir Philip Pullman has led the rebellion over the coin, of which some three million are due to enter circulation around the UK to mark Brexit on Friday.

Sir Philip tweeted: "The 'Brexit' 50p coin is missing an Oxford comma, and should be boycotted by all literate people."

His frustration has been echoed by Stig Abell, the editor of The Times' literary supplement and regular Sky News newspaper reviewer, who said: "Not perhaps the only objection, but the lack of a coma after 'prosperity' is killing me."

Proponents of the Oxford comma use it immediately before the coordinating conjunction (usually and or or) in a series of three or more terms, although its doubters tend to dismiss it as an Americanism that has no place in British writing.

One such critic, @TychoNestoris1, replied to Abell with: "Be gone with your American serial comma nonsense!"

The author and economics commentator Frances Coppola also played down the importance of the extra comma, replying to Sir Philip's tweet: "As all literate people know, the Oxford comma is entirely optional."

The Oxford comma is also known as a serial comma in the US, but the divisive punctuation mark derives its more common name from its use by the Oxford University Press.

Its style guide states: "In a list of three or more items, insert a comma before the 'and' or 'or'."

Backers of the comma tend to argue that it can provide provide vital clarity over the meaning of certain sentences.

For example: I love my siblings, Gareth Southgate and Danny DeVito.

Without the Oxford comma, this sentence could be interpreted as meaning that you love your siblings - and that your siblings are Gareth Southgate and Danny DeVito.

Regardless of the punctuation row, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is still looking forward to being among the first to receive the coin before they become widely available later this week.

His spokesman told reporters that the PM would probably like to keep one as a souvenir.